Hello, Again

by Jason Southerland

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday March 19, 2018

'Hello Again'
'Hello Again'  

When Arthur Schnitzler penned "La Ronde" in 1897, it was so controversial that it didn't play in public until 1920. When composer/writer Michael John LaChiusa and director/choreographer Graciela Daniele debuted "Hello Again" at Lincoln Center in 1993, Don't Ask Don't Tell was freshly minted and Clinton hadn't yet played hide the cigar with Monica Lewinsky. America hadn't quite entered post-modern sexuality yet, and there was still an innocence that has all but departed 24 years later.

"Hello Again" (the English translation of "La Ronde") details a daisy chain of sexual encounters and love affairs among ten archetypical characters in ten scenes. Each of its characters appears in two consecutive scenes, with The Whore from scene 1 completing the "circle" in scene 10 with The Senator. It scrutinizes the sexual morals and class ideology by choosing characters across all levels of society (The Soldier, The Young Thing, etc.). The play offers social commentary on how sexual contact transgresses boundaries of class.

Twenty-four years hasn't stunted the joys of LaChiusa's music and the fun of watching the story unfold in ten different time periods in the film adaptation directed by Tom Gustafson and written by Cory Krueckeberg. It has, unfortunately, weakened the shock value and delivers ten stories that progressively lose their power as the inevitable, lonely conclusion becomes obvious in scene after scene. The big question at the end of "Hello Again" is, "Why now?" The nihilistic view of love and sex was a celebratory if sad message at the end of the '80s / Ronald Regan era, but when placed in the context of our current world -- where sex is arranged via mobile phone and ordered like dinner -- it wears thin.

The music sounds glorious, and it was a joy to hear talents from Cheyenne Jackson to Audra McDonald tackle the complex rhythms and dissonance of LaChiusa's messy and magnificent score. Rumer Willis is a standout, and the strains of "I'm morally bankrupt" and "I can't remember my husband's face..." rise above the mundane ten rounds of sex. T.R. Knight is appropriately chilly with his beautiful Young Wife (Willis) and heartbreaking when he finally finds the love of his life (Tyler Blackburn as The Young Thing) just before sinking into the ocean on a famous luxury liner. Martha Plimpton bookends the movie with a sober and sad performance as The Senator, embodying all the pain and loneliness of LaChiusa's opening lines, "Hey there. Where you goin' soldier."

Director Gustafson and writer Krueckenberg have tried to modernize the material, changing the genders of The Whore and The Politician to explore more gender bending / sexual liberation. And there is lots of sex - some of it hot, some of it sad, some of it harsh. The movie is beautifully shot but stylistically uneven, sometimes feeling like a Fellini film and sometimes like an episode of "Glee," both in look and sensibility. If you're a fan of LaChiusa's music "Hello Again" is an elegant and horny 100 minutes that starts to drag but is saved by the 11th hour arrival of McDonald and Plimpton.